Contributors with ties to Santolina donate to shape BernCo commission

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A communications tower stands near the center of the proposed Santolina development southwest of I-40 and 118th Street. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

About a half dozen people at firms connected to the Santolina Master Plan have poured $25,000 into a political action committee supporting County Commission candidate Steven Michael Quezada.

The committee calls itself New Mexicans for New Mexico, though about 20 percent of its money has come from Jeffrey Garrett of Phoenix.

Garrett is president of the development company serving as asset manager for the Santolina project. He’s donated about $5,000 to the PAC supporting Quezada and $1,000 to another candidate in the race, Robert Chavez.

The third candidate in the Democratic race for District 2, Adrián Pedroza, has been the most outspoken against Santolina, but neither Chavez nor Quezada has said he supports the plan for the massive development on the West Side.

Besides Garrett, the other contributors to the PAC supporting Quezada also have ties to Santolina, either through their employer or personal involvement.

Responding to a Journal request for comment, Tom Garrity, a spokesman for the Santolina Master Plan team, said the contributors “know that Steven Michael Quezada and Robert Chavez are both qualified candidates and lifelong residents of the district.” Each is familiar with the need for high-paying jobs in the district, Garrity said.

The Santolina Master Plan – a framework for growth on a large chunk of the West Mesa – won approval on a 3-2 vote last year of the County Commission.

But a key supporter, Art De La Cruz, is stepping down at the end of this year because of term limits.

Quezada, Pedroza and Chavez are all campaigning to win the Democratic nomination to succeed him. Democrats are heavily favored in the district, based in the South Valley and Southwest Mesa.

The Santolina development still is seeking county approval for land-use plans for the area and a proposal to divert a share of the future tax revenue generated there to reimburse the developer for building roads and other infrastructure.

It’s unclear whether the PAC will also campaign for Chavez. The treasurer for the PAC said she couldn’t immediately answer questions Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Pedroza blasted his rivals, describing himself as “the only candidate running for Bernalillo County District 2 who has not taken money from this developer.”

“Here’s why I’m not their candidate,” Pedroza said, “and never will be: I believe we need to take care of and invest in the people and places we value in communities we live in today.”

Quezada, for his part, said he didn’t ask for Santolina’s support.

In fact, he said, he returned a donation from Garrett because “Santolina is not my thing. … I’m not taking money to support it.”

Quezada pointed out that he voted against Santolina as a member of the Albuquerque school board.

He has left open the possibility that he might support Santolina in some form if he’s on the commission when a future vote comes up.

“I don’t want to live next to another Pajarito Mesa,” he said, a reference to a West Side community that lacks public roads and basic infrastructure.

Chavez has said he would approach Santolina from a “quasi-judicial” perspective, meaning he’d simply consider the evidence in front of him the way a judge would.

New Mexicans for New Mexico paid for a billboard erected on Broadway, near Gibson, urging people to vote for “Breaking Bad’s” good guy, with a picture of Quezada and his name. Quezada, an actor and comedian, played “Gomie,” a drug enforcement agent, on the television show.

Quezada said Tuesday that he was upset to see the billboard because he’s made a point of campaigning on his commitment to public service, not his role in “Breaking Bad.”

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A billboard on South Broadway urges people to support Bernalillo County Commission candidate Steven Michael Quezada. It's paid for by political action committee New Mexicans for New Mexico.

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